Parallel jets provide astronomers with some of the most powerful evidence that a supermassive black hole lurks in the heart of most galaxies. Some of these black holes appear to be active, gobbling up material from their surroundings and launching jets at ultra-high speeds, while others are quiescent, even dormant.
Recent observations from SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, are shedding light on this question. SOFIA data indicate that magnetic fields are trapping and confining dust near the center of the active galaxy, Cygnus A, and feeding material onto the supermassive black hole at its center.
This artist’s conception of the core of Cygnus A shows the dusty donut-shaped surroundings, called a torus, and jets launching from its center. Magnetic fields are illustrated trapping the dust in the torus. These magnetic fields could be helping power the black hole hidden in the galaxy’s core by confining the dust in the torus and keeping it close enough to be gobbled up by the hungry black hole.
Image Credit: NASA/SOFIA/Lynette Cook